Two hundred years ago today, two very special, two very important, two very influential men were born: those cosmic birthday twins, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Celebrate Abraham’s birthday here (as you can imagine, that page is a little swamped today–here’s a cached version). To celebrate the bicentennial birthday of one of the most revolutionary scientists EVAH! — and for your edification and amusement — I present this Compendium darwinii.
Every true scientist at work today is in fact a Darwinian. They are decoders of the human genome, immunologists battling AIDS, stem cell researchers seeking tomorrow’s cures, anthropologists unearthing fossil hominids to define our human ancestry – even the "astrobiologists" seeking life on other planets while they study organisms living in extreme conditions on Earth.
Follow Darwin’s life, it was long and fruitful.
Follow the Voyage of the Beagle, he didn’t just go to the Galapagos Islands.
The central argument in Principles was that the present is the key to the past. Geological remains from the distant past can, and should, be explained by reference to geological processes now in operation and thus directly observable. Lyell’s interpretation of geologic change as the steady accumulation of minute changes over enormously long spans of time was a powerful influence on the young Charles Darwin. Lyell asked Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, to search for erratic boulders on the survey voyage of the Beagle, and just before it set out FitzRoy gave Darwin Volume 1 of the first edition of Lyell’s Principles. When the Beagle made its first stop ashore at St Jago, Darwin found rock formations which seen "through Lyell’s eyes" gave him a revolutionary insight into the geological history of the island, an insight he applied throughout his travels.
"In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long- continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work". — Charles Darwin, from his autobiography. (1876)
This often quoted passage reflects the significance Darwin affords Malthus in formulating his theory of Natural Selection. What "struck" Darwin in Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) was Malthus’s observation that in nature plants and animals produce far more offspring than can survive, and that Man too is capable of overproducing if left unchecked. Malthus concluded that unless family size was regulated, man’s misery of famine would become globally epidemic and eventually consume Man. Malthus’ view that poverty and famine were natural outcomes of population growth and food supply was not popular among social reformers who believed that with proper social structures, all ills of man could be eradicated.
Read his two works of art:
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and
The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)
Many of Darwin’s words of wisdom can be found here. "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science"
And here’s a light-hearted Darwin Day slideshow.
To understand the concept of the origin of the species, the concept of evolution, and the concept of natural selection is to understand the nature of life.
Really, who hasn’t been influenced by Darwin?
Now that it’s beer-thirty, at least here it is:
Here’s to you, Charles Darwin, many happy returns on the day!